There are drawings with these notebooks, some of which are currently held in the Royal Library at Windsor, thus the V & A has five of Leonardo’s notebooks which are written backwards requiring a mirror to decipher probably to keep the contents a secret.
Now known as the Codex Forster, this collection of notebooks were owned by John Forster until they were bequeathed to the museum in 1876.
In the general scheme of things, Socrates began western philosophy the way we understand it today. He is responsible for this benchmark in this time-line, before which was Pre-Socratic Philosophy.
Before Socrates on the fringes of Ancient Greece, pre-dating the 6th century BC the pre-Socratics had begun to reject mythology as the given passed down to them, and started to look for something else as an explanation of our world; something with more reason.
Ancient Philosophy, sometimes called Classical or Greek Philosophy is when Socrates appeared 450 years BC. He was the founder of Western Philosophy and is responsible for the Socratic Method which is basically deduction, thus detectives still use it today as an interrogative technique using a series of questions to draw individual answers and encourage a fundamental insight into the issue at hand. Socrates was executed with a hemlock plant for corrupting the young, though this was probably a stitch up because of his outspoken political views and he never wrote anything down.
Plato was Socrates student and documented everything his mentor did. He taught Aristotle and founded the Academy in Athens, though where his own work takes over from his master is one of the great philosophical debates.
Aristotle was a student of Plato in the world’s first university. Called the Academy in Athens, Aristotle was teacher to Alexander the Great and he did the earliest known formal study of logic which has since been called Formal Logic. His work on science was eventually replaced by Newton and Aristotle was the first meta-physician which basically means our being or existence of a non empirical or scientific nature for the human race as a whole, kind of like the opposite to Darwin’s Origin of Species. Existentialism is existence of an individual person with his or her emotions, feelings and actions whereas metaphysics is the existence or reality of all of us.
Medieval Philosophy came during the middle ages and post Roman Empire up to the Renaissance in the 16th century. It rediscovered the classical philosophy of Ancient Greece and Rome and addressed theology, with the existence of God being a fundamental question.
Renaissance philosophy mirrored renaissance art beginning in Italy, included English renaissance like Shakespeare and then the reformation and Counter Reformation. The occult became popular in this period with some philosophers.
Modern Philosophy began with Rene Descartes as the earliest modern philosopher. He invented the Cartesian co-ordinate system reflecting his name “Des carte” and analytical Cartesian geometry. He is also famous for: “I think therefore I am” which according to him, proves we must exist if we are thinking. Descartes was a key figure in the Scientific Revolution in the 17th century, thus being dubbed “the father of modern philosophy” and his Meditations plus Discourse of Method are his most famous books. Mind/Body Dualism was his idea in the huge area of philosophy of the mind.
Thomas Hobbes is a 17th century philosopher from England and his book Leviathan laid the foundation of western political philosophy with his social contract theory. Hobbes viewed political power as needing to be representative, that individuals had rights and should have equality in society, leaving people to do whatever the law doesn’t forbid. Social contract theory basically gives up some of our freedom to gain the benefits of political order, like an agreement of a set of rules by which we are governed, basically the rule of law. For example, a caveman may well think it acceptable to just take food and eat it. Our civil rights have basically been documented and we would be entitled to these in return for abiding by the law. Thus, the caveman is not allowed to just take food the way he used to, he must grow it himself under guidelines laid down by the state, or buy it paying the required tax on it.
John Locke was a 17th century English philosopher who basically wrote the Declaration of Independence, well his ideas are reflected in it with its liberal theory and he was the Father of Liberalism. One of the first empiricists, he believed the mind was a blank slate and we were born without innate ideas, thus, knowledge according to Lock was gained by experience and sense perception.
Francis Bacon worked in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries as an English philosopher; he was also Attorney General and Lord Chancellor. Famous for his scientific method he was a pioneer of the scientific revolution and was the father of empiricism, hence being knighted for his services, though unfortunately he died conducting one of his own experiments.
Baruch Spinoza was a Dutch Jewish rationalist philosopher from the 17th century who opposed the mind and body dualism of Rene Descartes. Rationalism is where epistemology uses reason as its source of knowledge or justification, thus, the truth is not sensory but deductive and is a good example of one philosopher building on the ideas of a predecessor.
Blaise Pascal invented the mechanical calculator. He was a 17th century French philosopher and mathematician famous for Pascal’s Wager which means you are better off believing in God than not; that way you have everything to gain and nothing to lose even if you are not religious. For example, if God does exist you were right to believe and won’t go to hell when you die. If he doesn’t exist, you have just used up a bit of time believing in something that is not there, and were essentially wrong, but haven’t necessarily wasted that time because you have probably learned a great deal anyway about the bible and religion and many other things in general. If you don’t believe and he is there, you were wrong and will suffer far more – or so it was believed and still often is – you will have lost out to everyone that did believe. If you don’t believe and he is not there, then you were right but it is really not worth that risk, hence the wager being a gamble worth taking, it is therefore wise to believe in God and a great way of explaining philosophy as this thinking process is typical of the philosophical approach to many other fundamental issues faced by us. The existence of God is on huge part of philosophy, as is morality, science, art and epistemology, thus, Pascal’s Wager is an interesting, reasoned approach to resolving a problem.
Gottfried Leibniz mass produced the mechanical calculator. A rationalism philosopher like Descartes and Spinoza he invented the binary number system which is the foundation of all digital computers and Leibniz was a German seventeenth-century mathematician who developed the idea of infinitesimal calculus.
David Hume was a Scottish philosopher known for his empiricism and scepticism in the 18th century. In his Treatise of Human Nature he argued against innate ideas, that only experience was knowledge and this bulldozer of metaphysics is known because of his challenge to abstract thought. Hume is often grouped with Locke and Berkeley as one of the great British empiricists.
George Berkeley was a Bishop and Anglo-Irish philosopher from the 18th century, who was famous for immaterial-ism which means that individuals can only know sensations or ideas and not matter. He said that ideas depend on perceiving minds for their very existence, thus, “to be, is to be perceived” and he thought that proper objects of sight were merely just light and colour.
Jean Jacques Rousseau was an eighteenth-century Swiss philosopher, big on the social contract and democracy. His political philosophy was heavily influenced by the French Revolution and the American Revolution and his book Confessions initiated the modern auto-biography. Rousseau was also a composer of Romanticism which opposed Enlightenment.
Immanuel Kant was an 18th century German philosopher with his investigation into the structure of reason. He was big on the debate between rationalism and empiricism which relies on experience as evidence, testing science with experiments by observation of the natural world. Rationalism of course requires reason and can incorporate innate knowledge which was present at, if not before birth. A-priori reasoning is in the soul. It is with Kant that epistemology becomes a formal discipline and paved the way for what have become psychology and the understanding of the mind. His Critique of Pure Reason gives a compromise between empiricism and rationalism and he invented idealism which is objects as we perceive them and not something the object possess in itself. Rationalism to me is: if we were born with innate ideas then Einstein for example was born with lets say “more” innate ideas than me. It is this power of deduction that the rationalist believes to be how we gain knowledge. Empiricists believe we learn through observation.
Friedrich Hegel was an 18th century German philosopher responsible for dialectic logic and idealism. The history of art approach we use today came from the philosophical framework which he developed and it was a system with an integrated and developmental relation to knowledge.
Fredrick Nietzsche thought we should progress forwards to become better. A late 19th century German, Nietzsche was an existentialist believing in the death of god (meaning that Christian moral principles were really out of date) and Ubermensch which is the superman concept of superiority and Nazi ideology. Nihilism means that life has no purpose and often associated with Nietzsche’s philosophy.
John Stuart Mill was an MP. He was taught Greek at school aged three and read 6 of Plato’s dialogues by the age of 8. A 19th century philosopher, Mill refused to study at Oxford or Cambridge because he wouldn’t take Anglican orders. A proponent of utilitarianism with Jeremy Bentham, he was also famous for falsification in the scientific method often associated with Karl Popper. Intensive study gave him a breakdown having suppressed normal feelings he may have developed in childhood devoting all his time to education.
Karl Marx was a 19th century German socialist philosopher and founder of Marxism. In the Communist Manifesto he argued that capitalism would lead to internal tension and its destruction. He believed socialism would replace capitalism and lead to a classless society of pure communism. Das Kapital is a critical analysis of capitalism believing that it exploits the labour force in order to achieve output by continuously reproducing labour.
Soren Kierkegaard was the father of existentialism and influenced heavily by the life of Jesus Christ, he wrote extensively on theology. A 19th century philosopher, he was Danish with an interest in psychology regarding individual feelings and emotions which lends itself to individual existence and existential philosophy.
Ludwig Wittgenstein is perhaps the last modern philosopher and held the position of Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge. Austrian, he inspired logical positivism and was part of the Vienna Circle. He gave away his massive inheritance, originally working as a gardener and teacher as well as having fought on the front lines in the First World War. He was gay as was one other brother and three others committed suicide. A 20th century philosopher, the vast majority of his work was published posthumously and voted the most important philosophical work of the twentieth century. He was not a happy soul, contemplating suicide continuously himself, he took out his self loathing on everyone he met. He was concerned with the use of language and the meaning of words and the use of philosophy in correcting their misconceptions.
Bertrand Russell spent most of his life in England but was born in Wales and died there age 97. He went to prison for being a pacifist at 90 years old. In 1950 he won the Nobel Prize for Literature for his History of Western Philosophy and is responsible for beginning the era known as Contemporary Philosophy. His grandfather John Russell was twice Prime Minister for Queen Victoria, thus, the Russell’s were a very aristocratic family. A 20th century philosopher he campaigned against Adolph Hitler and nuclear disarmament. A mathematician and fellow at Cambridge he also taught at Harvard. Russell famously said in his autobiography that there were three things in his life: “the search for love, knowledge and the unbearable suffering of mankind“. Russell’s teapot is used to argue for the existence of God and is his paradox. A paradox is like an oxymoron where something seems contradictory and here are some common examples: Catch 22 by Joseph Heller says you’d be mad to fly, but if you’re mad you can’t. Or: “we are all unique, same as everybody else”. Or: Don’t go near water until you can swim. CS Lewis said: “some day you’ll be old enough to read fairy tales again”. Freedom is not free and Damned if you do, damned if you don’t are but a few interesting examples.
A J Ayer promoted logical positivism. He was a spurs fan and his mother’s family founded the Citroen car company in France even though he was English. Ayer, worked as a spy for MI6 in the Second World War and nearly had a fight with Mike Tyson over Naomi Campbell. Ayer popularised the verification principle and visited the Vienna Circle shortly before publishing Language, Truth and Logic (his most famous book). He continued British Empiricism on from Locke, Hume and more recently Russell.
Karl Popper was one of the greatest philosophers of science ever. Austrian, he was a professor at the LSE and his scientific method using falsification was his thing. The scientific method is gathering observable, empirical, measurable evidence and doing experiments while testing the hypothesis and is thought by many to be the most unbiased and most objective way of gaining knowledge. A null hypothesis is connected to this falsification theory where we say there is no relationship between two things and by negating the outcome we work towards it trying to prove it not to be true and coming up with certain results which are true.
Edmund Husserl founded phenomenology which is the study of conscious experience and that is knowledge from logic in the perceptive world. Late 19th and early 20th century philosopher, Husserl believed that empiricism was the source of all knowledge.
Martin Heidegger was an existentialist philosopher who studied what “Being” really is. He became a Nazi, something which he apologised for later and it is through him we realise the deep divisions between politics and philosophy. He thought we had to go backwards into our roots to become better. A 20th century philosopher Heidegger’s most important book is Being and Time.
Jean-Paul Sartre was a twentieth-century existentialist and Marxist philosopher from France who refused the 1964 Nobel Prize for Literature because he didn‘t want to be recognised by a western organisation at a time with struggles between east and west. He was also a meta-physician who sympathized with the left and supported the French Communist Party.
As with most other things, philosophy became increasingly professionalised in the twentieth-century. John Rawls, the American philosopher won the Schock prize and has an asteroid named after him, Rawls really has carried the philosophy into the twenty-first-century seeing academia’s greatest discipline into its fourth millennium and beyond.
Philosophy really is here to stay!